Bike Commuting

BikeMapAside from the (what can feel like an eternally) long winter, Minneapolis is a great city for biking.  Currently, I live about five miles from campus and so when it’s warm enough, I often commute to and from school by bike.  Not only is it practically free (aside from replacing the occasional tire and general bike maintenance), it’s easy to park and is great exercise.  During the fall semester I was able to bike for most of August through October and really enjoyed it.  I’m looking forward to commuting by bike again now that it’s finally warmed up!

Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about what works well and what doesn’t.  So, in celebration of a late spring that has finally arrived, warmer days ahead, and plenty of opportunities to bike, here are my nine bike essentials:BikingToSchool

  1. A bike.  Okay, this is pretty obvious.  Recently I’ve been riding an old (free for me) Trek 720, but really any bike will do.  I will say, after trying a few different bikes, I prefer to sit closer to upright when I’m commuting so I try to avoid more “serious” road or mountain bikes.  Usually, though, you can find a great bike for less than $300 on Craigslist or at a local bike shop.
  2. A Timbuk2 bag.  The brand isn’t so important, although I do like my Timbuk2 tote quite a bit, but the easy-to-open top zipper allows me to access my books without taking apart my entire bike basket.  I regularly carry my computer, power cord, 1-2 books, a notebook, a file folder, snacks, and water (among other things) and have never had a problem.
  3. Sunglasses.  I like to bring sunglasses for two reasons.  One, it can be sunny, but also, sometimes when riding on the road cars can kick up dirt and other things, so I like to have some eye protection.
  4. REI Flip-Top Vacuum Tumbler.  This is one case where I feel pretty brand loyal.  After trying several different coffee travel mugs, this is by far my favorite.  First, it has a great seal and so when it’s closed you can turn the mug over and shake it and nothing will spill.  Seriously, I’ve tried.  Second, it keeps things warm for hours.  I’ve burned my tongue on hot tea 4+ hours after making it.
  5. Water bottle.  It’s important to stay hydrated in general, but especially when bike commuting.  I prefer glass water bottles mostly because I don’t like the way that plastic bottles taste after a while.  In any case, find a water bottle you like and fill it up!
  6. Plastic crate.  When my husband and I first started school and were feeling especially poor (after moving half-way across the U.S.) I decided that instead of buying a fancy bike basket, that I would attach a plastic crate we had on hand with some zip ties.  Several months later, I’ve never had a problem.  There is plenty of space for my bag, books if I stop at the library, etc.  Eventually, I might get a better bike basket, but for now, my bright teal crate does its job well.
  7. Comfortable pants.  On a whim I tried the J.Crew Minnie pants and loved them.  Not only do they look professional, but they are ankle length, have some stretch, and are durable.  I find them to be excellent for biking to school, then hopping off for a meeting or class without having to change.  (As a side note, they are technically dry clean only, but I’ve had good luck washing them on a delicate cycle with cold water and hanging them to dry.)
  8. Rain coat.  In the morning it can be quite cool here, so having a raincoat that doubles as a wind breaker can be nice.
  9. Helmet.  Don’t forget the most important part!  I got a fairly inexpensive helmet at REI and it works well.  (And, ladies, if you’re worried about your hair, I found a great tutorial here).

Do you ever commute by bike?  If so, what do you find to be “essential”?



This week is going to be pretty busy… as I will be attending and presenting at a conference!  Although I’ve attended education conferences as a teacher, there is a distinct difference between sitting in the back of a session and speaking in front of a session.  Anyway… I’m hoping that my presentations (mostly) go as planned.  Wish me luck!


Comic via PhD Comics

Packing for an Academic Conference

Hopefully you won’t find this to be too off topic…  I’m leaving for my very first academic conference on Saturday! And like many of you, I’ve put a bit of thought into what I want to wear.  Inspired by AcademicChic, as well as my own experience at education conferences and other professional events, here is my plan.

Unlike my current home in Minnesota (where we just got another snow storm), has promised me a sunny high 60s to mid 70s week.  I am thrilled.  While there, I will be presenting twice, listening to lectures, touring New Orleans, attending a fancy-ish dinner, meeting old friends for coffee, watching a softball game in a local park, and hopefully, running with my M.A. program marathon buddy.

I really don’t enjoy checking luggage and in general try to mix and match when traveling as much as possible, so here is what I’m packing for a week-long trip:PackingList

  1. 1 pair of jeans (similar)
  2. 1 pair of cigarette pants that are as comfortable as leggings (same)
  3. 1 pair of charcoal grey dress pants (same)
  4. 1 black blazer (similar)
  5. 1 dress (similar)
  6. 1 sleeveless blouse (similar)
  7. 1 long-sleeved white blouse (similar)
  8. 1 striped t-shirt (same)
  9. 1 burgundy sweatshirt (same)
  10. 1 lemon yellow cardigan (similar)
  11. 1 pair of moccasins (same)
  12. 1 pair of black wedges (similar)
  13. 1 white scarf (similar)

For the plane ride there in the evening, I’m planning to wear my cigarette pants, burgundy sweatshirt, moccasins, and scarf.  All of those pieces are comfortable for the plane ride and the scarf can double as a blanket, if need be.

The first day I’ll be going to breakfast with a friend, running, and attending a softball game, so I’ll need to be comfortable and ready to walk.  I’m planning on wearing my jeans, striped shirt, yellow cardigan, and moccasins.

The second day is my first academic presentation ever and I’m feeling a bit nervous.  Hopefully my green dress, black blazer, and wedges will give me extra confidence.

The third day I will be sitting in sessions, but still want to look professional.  I’m planning to wear my grey dress pants, white blouse, and will bring my yellow cardigan in case I get cold.  I also have a colorful necklace to wear to make things more interesting.

The fourth day I will again be attending sessions all day and can be a bit more casual.  I want to wear something colorful and fun, so I’m planning to recycle my yellow cardigan and black cigarette pants, and wear it with my blue blouse and black wedges.  That night I have a more formal dinner event, so I’ll recycle my green dress and wedges and add a sparkly black belt and fun earrings.

The fifth day is my second academic presentation ever, so I’ll be dressing up again.  I plan to wear my grey dress pants, and recycle my blue blouse, black blazer, and black wedges.

On the final I will get up early and head to the airport after a whirlwind week.  I may recycle my entire plane outfit (don’t fix what isn’t broken), or, if I get bored, I may wear my jeans, white blouse, and moccasins.  But we’ll see…

A second cardigan may sneak into my bag… but that will most likely be all I bring!  What do you pack for conferences?  How long do you have to be gone before you’ll check a bag?  Any tips or tricks?

Applying for Funding

Book GroupsWhen I was working on my M.A. I felt overwhelmed most of the time.  I remember one day in particular.  In early spring, I was running with a friend in my cohort and we were talking about applying for various forms of funding.  She mentioned the various fellowships and grants for which she was applying, and the other awards for which our friends were applying and I felt entirely lost.  I had applied for exactly zero.  Although I eventually scraped together one application (and was awarded a fellowship), it felt like a huge stretch.

So when I graduated and moved to Minnesota for my Ph.D., I promised myself that I would apply for anything and everything that I could.  The first application was horrible and took days, but afterward the process got a lot easier.  Not only was I able to write an application much more quickly, but applying for fellowships also helped me make contacts at the University, refine my ideas about my project, examine the available literature… I could go on, but you get my point.  Even thought I didn’t win a lot of the awards, the process itself was helpful.  Now I actively seek out and apply for funding pretty regularly.  I’ve also been able to use pieces of my applications in other ways (even when looking for jobs).  Through it all, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks:

  1. Make a list of fellowships and awards.  I have an Excel file that I update as I hear about awards.  It lists each award, the approximate deadline, details about its requirements, the amount of the award, and other things.  That way I know I won’t “lose” information on a little-known award if I can’t apply this year.  There are plenty of awards that are only for writing your dissertation, or for travel, and that may not be relevant today, but it will be in a few years.
  2. Keep a “short list” of recommenders.  I have a few people that I ask for award letters over and over again.  My advisor, of course, is at the top of that list.  I try to keep everyone in the loop and talk about how things are going, what I’m planning on applying for, etc.  That way, when I ask them for a letter they’re not surprised.  Additionally, give your recommenders plenty of time to write a letter.  The more time you have, the better.  Don’t wait until the last minute to ask.  The last thing you want is a frustrated recommender.
  3. Update your CV and keep it updated.  Most of the awards I’ve applied for require a 2-3 pg. CV, so I try to keep at least one long-form version that includes everything, and a shorter version.  Every time I am accepted to present a paper or have a journal article accepted, I immediately update my CV.  Now whenever anyone asks for my CV (or I’m applying for something), that piece is already done.
  4. Scan your transcripts.  Many times you don’t need an official transcript until later, so go ahead and scan copies of each (your undergrad, your M.A., etc.) and then you’ll be ready.
  5. Write a general cover letter and get feedback (even if you’re not ready to apply).  When I applied for the very first fellowship I got feedback from my friends and advisor.  Now, although I have to adapt things, I have a good working draft that explains my research and plans for the next year.  Since this can be the hardest part, it’s nice to know that I’m not starting from scratch.
  6. Don’t apply for teeny national awards.  Think about it this way: How much money do you need?  How much time will you spend on the application?  How much is that money worth per hour?  If you’re applying for a $500 fellowship and competing against 1,000 other applicants, it might not be worth your time.
  7. Do apply for smaller departmental awards.  The narrower the audience, the more competitive you are.
  8. Plan ahead for big awards.  The full-funding, $30,000 fellowship is going to take some time.  Years, if you think about it.  A lot of larger awards are determined, in part, based on your research productivity and publication record.  So, if you plan to apply for something like that, make sure to keep it in the back of your mind as you go through your program.  At my university, there is at least one award where you won’t even be considered without a single-authored article.

How do you manage your “professional portfolio”?  Any other helpful tips and tricks?